Reflections on storytelling and self-image

Reflections on storytelling and self-image

SONY DSCIn the last post, I made reference to one of the core concepts of both my consulting work and my teaching, regarding the connection between storytelling and self-image. In fact, much evidence supports the view that our sense of identity is framed by the stories we tell, and come to believe, about ourselves.

My own research has shown that many people of influence understand and use the power of narrative when reaching out to their constituents. Often, the most effective leaders are individuals who express themselves and inspire those around them with their personal stories of identity. In many instances, they draw abundant energy and motivation from the authentic personal stories they share with others.

In a significant number of the cases I have either experienced or researched, I have seen how personal storytelling can help a leader’s self-confidence grow. People who seek to influence others can extend their reach and their impact by developing a clear understanding of who they are and what they stand for, and then expressing these things to those around them. When they learn to use their personal stories effectively, individuals are often spurred on to greater heights, as they come to realize that they can influence their worlds more than they had previously believed.

My coaching work of more than two decades has demonstrated quite clearly the effectiveness of narrative discourse. Indeed, if I frequently proclaim nowadays that such notions about personal storytelling have become key elements of my core beliefs, it is largely because I have spent many years helping a wide variety of individuals learn to influence their worlds, to move others to action with their personal stories of identity. One of the most fascinating—and gratifying—elements of this work I do has been the opportunity to watch clients grow, as they learn to use these stories to communicate their true essence to others.

In my coaching career, I have had the good fortune to witness this storytelling dynamic firsthand. A number of my clients have bolstered their self-confidence, challenged themselves to reach new heights, even redefined themselves, by virtue of the stories of self they come to believe, and the ways they learn to share their personal narratives with others.

In the case of my clients, this sort of personal development has been a direct result of the power of story to simultaneously confirm and expand our self-image. Feeling part of a bigger story simply causes human beings to grow bigger as well. In essence, each telling of our personal stories of identity is a reaffirmation of who we are, who we are striving to become, and what is meaningful to us.

Over the years, I have also discovered that interaction with listeners—the very act of revealing our deepest convictions to others and seeing their reaction—is an important element in developing our stories. People draw energy and motivation from the authentic personal stories they share with others, and this phenomenon is amplified through interaction with listeners. Feeling their words resonating with audiences helps leaders—all individuals who seek to influence their worlds—move forward in their minds.

In my early days as a coach, it was a considerable surprise for me to learn how much the very act of telling one’s personal stories of identity in any arena—whether informally, in the context of an organization, or in public speaking situations—can be such an integral element of the growth process. In fact, I have seen countless individuals evolve positively as speakers and leaders by learning to speak from the heart when they address any type of audience.

Consequently, this is something I now encourage everyone who seeks to influence their world to put on their agenda, and to practice over and over: Put yourself in front of anyone, any audience, and talk about something that truly matters to you. Some people—those who feel reticent to speak in public—might like to start with individual colleagues, small groups, informal settings, or friendly audiences before taking on larger venues, or important issues in their organizations. Others begin by volunteering to make short speeches in school or church environments. The actual forum or the profile of the listeners is far less important than the endeavor itself—the simple act of standing up and expressing one’s authentic beliefs to others.


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